Behaviour Online

Michele Martin, in looking at our Work Literacy online course, concludes that Online Negative Behavior is a Product of Culture:

This is the conclusion I’m drawing from using social media for learning. If people have negative experiences with using social media in their organizations–if people are behaving unprofessionally or inappropriately–I think that there’s something a lot deeper going on that social media is simply bringing to the surface.

We assumed that this would be an environment for civil, professional discussions and never put in any limitations or rules. It seems that this approach worked through modeling appropriate behaviour by both facilitators and members. I have found this group of over 700 members to be polite and even caring for each other. It has been a real pleasure following the learning paths and stories in the blogs and discussion forums.

So why do we see many instances of bad behaviour online? Perhaps some of these forums with nastier comments are just places to vent. Maybe people cannot freely express their opinions at work or at school, or perhaps they feel that no one is listening.

Are social networks within organisations more difficult to nurture because 1) the organisation itself may be dysfunctional and 2) individuals recognize this dysfunctionality and 3) this tension may become evident in an online social network. Therefore, when management decides to create a place for an online community they naturally put in rules and workers naturally won’t open up because of these rules. These same workers/students/citizens vent their frustrations in the more open and wild discussion forums such as YouTube comments or CBC news stories (both of which I’ve given up reading).

Of course, this is a completely untested hypothesis.

5 Responses to “Behaviour Online”

  1. Robert Paterson

    I think you are onto something – check out NPR community – all is what you would want – truly civil. YouTube and CBC an outrage.

    NPR I think set the tone – YT and CBC did no work to create a civic society.

    I think that anonymity is a key factor – in Sackville you have to behave because you are known. In a big city……

    Design I think can deal with this – BUT – once you let the trolls in…

  2. Karyn Romeis

    This is one I’ve wrestled with, too. Very occasionally, I have seen exceptions to the politeness that is the norm in this space, such as some of the exchanges on this post from Jay, for example. It’s rare enough that I was quite taken aback by it.

    By contrast, the comments on this YouTube video degenerated into personal attacks between commenters.

    There is of course the issue of anonymity – the main instigator of vitriole was one who used a nom de plume and took the stance of cynical critic from the off. Like you, I have given up reading the comments on YouTube videos, now.

    But I wonder if another factor might be the lack of buy-in to a common purpose. For example. I used to belong to a weight loss website, which had discussion forums. There were occasional spats there, but they were mostly due to misunderstandings resulting from the limitations of textual communication. For the most part, the conversations were mutually supportive, positive, encouraging and very we’re-all-in-this-together.

    I think there is probably still a lot of cynicism out there towards learning in the workplace. Not everyone is sold on the idea of “let’s do this as well as we possibly can, for the good of us all”. Many people are still standing back with “Oh yeah?” oozing out of every fibre of their beings. I suspect many of the more enthusiastic types are a little intimidated by the eye-rollers, so they hold back.

    Just thinking out loud…

  3. Dave Ferguson

    Some of the good aspects of online communication: an alternative to hierarchy, the opportunity to speak freely, the invitation to informality, the rapid dissemination of information and opinion.

    Some of the unfortunate aspects: few standards or controls, the opportunity to speak too freely, anonymity and distance as an opening for boorishness, and the rapid dissemination of information and opinion not worth the electrons they consume.

    The noted Web 2.0 expert, Vachel Lindsay, saw the importance of the immediate environment:

    Factory windows are always broken.
    Other windows are let alone.
    No one throws through the chapel-window
    The bitter, snarling, derisive stone…

    There’s nothing so magical about social networks that poor behavior won’t happen. I have to say, based on other kinds of communities I’ve belonged to, that I never assumed that social media would never have to put in any limitations or rules.

    Karyn makes a good point: some sort of shared sense of purpose (even if not everyone shares exactly the same sense) is in some ways what makes a community, whether it’s the local Friends Meeting, the Axolotl project team at work, or the participants in the Work Literacy ning site.

    (Some of those not diving in immediately ma be intimidated by “the more enthusiastic,” as well.)

    As with cable channels and other media, passion gets attention. That can be sincere enthusiasm, but it can also be deliberate provocation. Believe me, I get hyperbole for hyperbole’s sake.

    As Robert Frost pointed out once, you can’t play tennis with the net missing if you don’t know the rules of tennis.

  4. Jon Husband

    Karyn makes a good point: some sort of shared sense of purpose (even if not everyone shares exactly the same sense) is in some ways what makes a community, whether it’s the local Friends Meeting, the Axolotl project team at work, or the participants in the Work Literacy ning site.

    What Karen and Dave said …

    It’s been my experience that group process operates essentially the same way online as offline, but there are some subtle and important differences. In facilitation of groups, it has always been a challenge to help / enable less extroverted and assertive participants speak out / up. and of course to have more extroverted and assertive participants pipe down / leave room for others.

    As to civility and manners, sometimes in the real world people do not express deeply held or important issues because of the demands of manners or because it can be difficult to be clear, articulate and civil about an issue one is passionate about, whereas the degree-of-remove or detachment that the virtual distance provides emboldens some.

    However, as we all get more practiced and fluent about / with interaction online, i suspect that we will see the axioms of what and how a group / community tolerates (and not) come into play more often and more regularly.

    However #2 … it is also clear that as a generality there are less effective manners, less self-censoring and restraint and more less-civil verbal behaviour present in our North american society than in the past. And laying that at the feet of ‘culture” generally is not a stretch, conceptually. If you are of a certain age, it only takes a couple of hours of watching television or listening to a radio show (for examples) to realize that things are different today than was the case 20 or 30 years ago.

    Of course those differences are evident in how people express themselves online today .. and that is for the better AND for the worse.

  5. Michele Martin

    Hi Harold–thanks for continuing this discussion. Over on my original post, Ken Allen made the excellent point that the terms “inappropriate” and “unprofessional” are subjective, which ties in with Jon’s comment above about how ideas of how to comport ourselves in conversation with others (both on and off-line) are changing.

    While there are some obvious violations, such as personal attacks and name-calling, you can also have genuine disagreements about ideas that some organizations would consider to be “inappropriate” or at least inappropriate for a public forum such as a blog or social network. That, in itself, would open up some interesting conversations about organizational culture–what is acceptable to discuss and what isn’t?

    I do think that in many ways you get what you expect and model. If you lead with a bunch of rules about appropriate behavior, you probably end up stifling a lot of conversation. You also leave the impression that you expect poor behavior, which sends its own messages.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)